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African Cardinal on Liberalized Church Standards: 'We Did not Agree to This Document'

African Cardinal on Liberalized Church Standards: 'We Did not Agree to This Document'

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi opened the October 7 press conference saying the conference organizers asked him to issue a declaration regarding the press reports about the new Vatican discussion document–which they said would liberalize the church’s standards–had “misrepresented” it. Lombardi said the document is merely a work in progress.

Much of the press reported that the discussion document that informs the preparatory meeting for next year’s Synod of Bishops had been an “earthquake” and that the church now welcomed gay couples, that the divorced and civilly remarried could receive communion and that there were positive aspects to living together without the benefit of marriage.

Significantly, for the press conference the Vatican sent out two Cardinals–Wilfred Fox Napier of Durban, South Africa, and Fernando Filoni of Italy–who were both among the 41 Synod bishops who formally complained after the document was read to them yesterday morning. Forty-one bishops represents almost 25% of the total members of the Synod’s bishops. 

The strongest language by far came from the South African. He said the press misrepresented the document, the document did not accurately reflect the discussions among the bishops–maybe in the content but not in the emphasis of certain topics–and that the document would be changed by week’s end.

Napier said the Bishops were surprised when the document came out yesterday and that “the language of the document may lead some people to believe that this document reflects the body as a whole.”

And then Napier dropped something of a bomb. “We did not agree to this document,” he said.

Napier said that in previous Synods such documents tended to accurately reflect the proceedings but that this one did not. He said everything in the document was said by at least a few bishops but that did not mean it reflected the thinking of the whole body of Synod bishops.

John Allen of the Boston Globe asked, “…what the world heard yesterday was a great opening to gays, and the divorced. When you are done revising the document is that message of outreach and openness still going to be there?”

Napier replied, “We are now working from a position that is virtually irredeemable. The word has gone out that this is what we are saying but this is not what we are saying at all.” He said walking back the document now would seem like little more than damage control.

Journalist John Thavis, author of The Vatican Diaries and whose “earthquake” headline swept the world yesterday, was even more pointed. Thavis said, “Will you disown the document or not?”

A reporter from the liberal America Magazine tried to salvage the situation. “When you say ‘that is not what we are saying’, does this refer to the media’s representation or the document itself?”

Napier said he was talking about the media’s response but that the document would change by the end of the week. He said, “The Synod is not about these other issues. It is about helping the family live the gospel.”

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